With pre season game No. 2 in the books – a sloppy, penalty-driven affair that featured some excellent strides in the passing game and a stout defensive effort against the Baltimore Ravens – attention is turning towards what the roster will look like come opening week. Below is my best guess on the 53 players who will be lining up against the St. Louis Rams on Sept. 9.
Quarterbacks (2): Starter: Matthew Stafford. Backup: Shaun Hill. Comment: Stafford is clearly the starter entering his fourth season and Hill is clearly one of the top backups in the NFL. Boise State’s Kellen Moore is an undrafted rookie trying to make the team as the third quarterback. My guess is that he winds up on the eight man practice squad.
Running Backs (4): Starter: Kevin Smith. Backups: Stefan Logan, Keiland Williams, Joique Bell. Comment: You are probably wondering what happened to Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure – the top two backs entering camp. My understanding is that Best will start the season on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) List – which means he will sit out the first six weeks at minimum. Leshoure has been suspended for the first two games of the season. Neither player will count against the 53 man roster come early September. Smith will be a capable starter until it all gets sorted out. Williams and Logan will help out as situational players. Wayne State’s Bell will make the team but probably won’t stick around once Best and Leshoure are able to return.
Wide Receivers (5): Starters: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young. Backups: Ryan Broyles, Maurice Stovall. Comment: Everyone knows about the top three receivers – they should form one of the best groups in the NFL. Broyles hurt his knee in college last year at Oklahoma and is being brought along slowly but should contribute. Stovall is tall, plays well on special teams and could double for Calvin Johnson on the goal line in a pinch.
Tight Ends (3): Starter: Brandon Pettigrew. Backups: Tony Scheffler, Will Heller. Comment: If Pettigrew holds on to the ball, he could be one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Scheffler is purely a pass catching tight end – not a huge blocking presence – but perfect for today’s NFL. Heller plays some fullback and some tight end.
Offensive Line (9): Starters: Jeff Backus, Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman, Gosder Cherilus. Backups: Riley Reiff, Corey Hilliard, Jason Fox, Dylan Gandy. Comment: One of the biggest camp stories has been Iowa rookie Reiff and whether or not he will crack the starting lineup at tackle or guard. The starting group has been together for the past two years and has done an adequate job. The backups need to have diversity in the positions they can play. Reiff can play guard and Gandy can play center or guard. This is a big transition year at the tackle position for the starters and backups.
Defensive Line (11): Starters: Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch. Backups: Willie Young, Nick Fairley, Sammie Hill, Lawrence Jackson, Andre Fluellen, Everette Brown, Ronnell Lewis. Comment: By far the deepest position on the roster. It is unusual for a team to keep eleven defensive linemen, but I don’t see how the Lions cut any of the above mentioned players. The starting four are set for 2012, although Williams and Avril will be free agents after the season and Vanden Bosch is a veteran trying to stay healthy. Young is expected to have a big year and could challenge for a starting spot in 2013. Fairley needs to have a big year after his troublesome off season and could face a suspension similar to Leshoure. Jackson, Hill and Fluellen are all experienced backups. Brown is having a great pre season and is trying to revive his career. Lewis – who I mentioned in the last column – should play mostly special teams this season.
Linebackers (7): Starters: DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant. Backups: Ashlee Palmer, Doug Hogue, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis. Comment: The three starters remain the same for the first time in a while for the Lions so the continuity will be there. Tulloch is the star in the middle. Levy is better suited to play in the middle and may be gone after 2012. Durant, also a free agent soon, is more of a pass rusher but struggles in coverage. Other than Palmer, the backups are all young guys who should play mostly special teams.
Cornerbacks (5): Starters: Chris Houston, Jacob Lacey. Backups: Bill Bentley, Alphonso Smith, Jonte Green. Comment: After Houston, the position is young and mostly inexperienced. Lacey comes over from the Colts and should start on the outside or at the nickel. My guess is that Bentley settles in as the third corner this year. Smith and the rookie Green provide depth.
Safeties (4): Starters: Louis Delmas, Erik Coleman. Backups: Amari Spievey, John Wendling. Comment: Even though Delmas is hurt right now, the feeling is that he will be back by week one. Coleman is a veteran who is having an excellent camp and pre season. Last year’s other starter – Spievey – could still be in the mix to start. Wendling is a special teams ace who is proving useful as a backup safety.
Special Teams (3): We know that Jason Hanson will be the kicker and that Don Muhlbach will be the long snapper. As mentioned last time, the punting job is up for grabs between Ryan Donahue and Ben Graham. I won’t guess a winner because the competition will go until the last pre season game.
I have been a die hard Lions fan since 1991. I played football in high school and began a college playing career at Wayne State before hanging up the cleats. I will try to provide a perspective on my favorite NFL team as the season progresses for the Patch.